November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. As the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, it's important to not only spread awareness around the disease but to help shed light on how to reduce your risks of developing it.
Though not all factors are controllable, everyone must know their risk factors and screening options to help reduce the death rate and increase the chance of prevention, early detection, and hopefully, one day, a cure.
Here's What Everyone Should Know When it Comes to Lung Cancer.
Common Risk Factors for Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is identified by two general types: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. With non-small cell lung cancer being an umbrella term for various lung cancers, small cell lung cancer is less common and almost always found in heavy smokers. Though it's commonly known that one of the most significant risk factors for lung cancer is smoking, being exposed to secondhand smoke can also increase your risks.
Some other risk factors to consider include:
Previous radiation therapy (especially to the chest)
Exposure to radon gas, asbestos, or other carcinogens
A family history of lung cancer
To reduce your risks, avoid smoking; if you do smoke, consider stopping. Avoid secondhand smoke exposure by asking those you live or work with to quit or only smoke outdoors. You might also look into testing your home for radon and use extra precaution if you work in an industry exposed to carcinogens. A healthy diet and regular exercise have been known to reduce your risk for lung cancer, too.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
Like most cancers, signs and symptoms are often not present until advanced stages. Some common symptoms may include:
A sudden, persistent cough that won't subside
Coughing up blood
Shortness of breath
Pains in the chest
Sudden weight loss (without trying)
It's important to talk to your doctor when any of the above symptoms are present so they can further discuss your testing and screening options with you.
Lung Cancer Screenings
To find lung cancer early on, your doctor may recommend a lung cancer screening, known as a low-dose computed tomography or low-dose CT scan or LDCT. Often, screenings are recommended only to those at high risk for lung cancer, as some risks — such as a false-positive, overdiagnosis, and radiation exposure — can all occur from the screening.
Your pack-year (meaning, smoking one pack of cigarettes per day for a year), how long you've smoked or have been a nonsmoker, and your age will all determine if you're eligible for screening. Currently, screening is not recommended for any individual over the age of 81 or for those who have not smoked for over 15 years. If you think you're a good candidate for screenings, speak with your doctor on how and when you can begin the process.